The author knows Provence, having lived there for over a decade. When Étienne, Comte de Bremont, falls to his death from the open window of his semi-ruined château, and the police suspect murder, you can expect a story in which at least the ambience is authentic. Alas, too much so. Longworth, whose previous publications have been mainly in the food and travel genres, seems to be writing three books at once, and the detective story comes only a distant third.
Readers who appreciate an insider's view of French society, fashions, café chatter, food, wines, and table etiquette may feel they have an expert on hand to escort them. If only she didn't keep proclaiming her insider status. She tells us early on, for instance, that the word for those little kisses that the French give each other on each cheek is "bises," but do we really need to have this repeated every time two people meet? Longworth is writing for British readers, I think, who have French as their first foreign language; people who lack at least a smattering of French may find that her liberal sprinkling of foreign phrases moves rapidly from the delightfully authentic to the merely annoying.
The second genre in Longworth's mix is romance. The principal investigator in the case -- not a detective but that peculiar French legal figure known as the "juge d'instruction" -- is Antoine Verlaque, youngish, handsome, cultivated, a rising star in the profession. His former girlfriend, Marine Bonnet, a thirtyish law-school professor, turns out to have been a childhood friend of the dead man, and so becomes peripherally involved in the investigation, first as a character witness and later as a kind of sounding-board for Verlaque. Hers is an anomalous position, made no less so when surges of the old physical attraction begin to resurface. Antoine is not presented as an especially sympathetic character; Marine is almost embarrassingly girlish in her emotional pliability; it is almost impossible to see her as the professional she is supposed to be. And Longworth is apt to segue into romantic daydreams even at totally inappropriate moments, such as the murdered man's funeral.
So what of the mystery? It builds far too slowly at the beginning, then ramifies too fast at the end, the author introducing false leads almost faster than she can dismiss them. Even after the initial mystery was solved, we were still meeting new characters, but I had long ceased to care. A successful detective story requires a more tightly constructed plot, more believable investigators, and a setting that we can inhabit without feeling we are on a guided tour.